Archive Authors E.J. Hutchinson Nota Bene

Posture (Again, and Again, And Again)

I’ve written here before of the importance of thinking about posture when we think about prayer, due to the body-soul connection that is fundamental to human being; this connection remains real, even if one demurs from going quite so far as to jump the proverbial shark and plug the sacramental high-five. Those previous posts have dealt with John Calvin, Niels Hemmingsen, and John Owen.

Like those three, Uncle Screwtape also understood the importance for our minds of what we do with our bodies. Thus in his fourth letter to his nephew Wormwood he writes:

The best thing, where it is possible, is to keep the patient from the serious intention of praying altogether. When the patient is an adult recently re-converted to the Enemy’s party, like your man, this is best done by encouraging him to remember, or to think he remembers, the parrot-like nature of his prayers in childhood. In reaction against that, he may be persuaded to aim at something entirely spontaneous, inward, informal, and unregularised; and what this will actually mean to a beginner will be an effort to produce in himself a vaguely devotional mood in which real concentration of will and intelligence have no part. One of their poets, Coleridge, has recorded that he did not pray “with moving lips and bended knees” but merely “composed his spirit to love” and indulged “a sense of supplication.” That is exactly the sort of prayer we want; and since it bears a superficial resemblance to the prayer of silence as practised by those who are very far advanced in the Enemy’s service, clever and lazy patients can be taken in by it for quite a long time. At the very least, they can be persuaded that the bodily position makes no difference to their prayers; for they constantly forget, what you must always remember, that they are animals and that whatever their bodies do affects their souls. It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds: in reality our best work is done by keeping things out. (The Screwtape Letters, pp. 28-9)

Thus it is no accident that, though prayer can occur anywhere and in any way–eyes open, eyes close, hands folded, hands open, etc.–Scripture (and the law of nature) recommends two postures preeminently for prayer: kneeling and standing; and those for reasons that have been treated in those earlier installments.

By E.J. Hutchinson

E.J. Hutchinson is Assistant Professor of Classics at Hillsdale College.